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US Criminal Justice System Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3416 words Published: 26th Jul 2018

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The Criminal Justice System (CJS) consists of three elements, the Police, Courts and Corrections. It is no secret that the CJS has been heavily criticized over the years about its overall effectiveness, some skeptics have gone as far as to say the criminal justice system is not a system at all based on “its current operation and fragmentation, it is merely a process. A process that involves the decision and actions taken by an institution, offender, victim, or society that influence the offender’s movement into, through, or out of the justice system (Peak, 2010, p.5)” Some observers contend the justice systems are a network. Steven Cox and John Wade “describe the justice system as a television of radio network whose stations share many programs but each station presents programs the network doesn’t air on other stations (Peak, 2010, p.7)” “Others argue that the justice system comprises a criminal justice nonsystem, a system that deal with criminal behavior not always functioning in harmony and is neither efficient enough to create a credible fear of punishment or fair enough to command respect for its values (Peak, 2010, p.8)”

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Police Officers are the first line of defense in this complex organization of the CJS. They have a wide range of responsibilities and layers which includes apprehending criminals, maintaining public order, preventing and detecting crimes. They are also trained in counter-terrorism, surveillance, child protection, VIP protection, and investigation techniques into major crimes such as fraud, rape, murder or drug trafficking.

Community-oriented policing and problem solving (COPPS) is the dominant strategy of policies whose approach to crime detection and prevention provides police officers and supervisors with new tools for addressing problems in the communities. The S.A.R.A process (Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment) is a necessary tool that provides officers with a logical step-by-step framework to identify, analyze, respond to, and evaluate crime, fear of crime and neighborhood disorder. When used effectively, these tools are essential in combating crimes in the community, and ensuring a cohesive relationship between officers and residents.

Some of the most important and challenging positions in our society are those of police administrator, manager, or supervisor. Henry Mintzberg described three main roles of the Police Chief or Sheriff: the interpersonal, informational, and the decision-maker. The Interpersonal has three components: the figurehead who attends ceremonial functions, civic events, swearing-in ceremonies, the leadership motivates and coordinates workers while achieving the mission, goals and needs within the department and community, the liaison interacts with other organizations and coordinates work assignments. The Informational engages in tasks relating to monitoring/inspecting, dissemination, and spokesman duties. The Decision-Maker serves as an entrepreneur, a disturbance handler and a negotiator (Peak, 2010 pp. 89-91). The Chief of Police or Sheriff is at the top of the Police organizational chart, his effectiveness or lack thereof will determine the success or failure of their agency(s).

Law enforcement officers have responsibilities that outweigh many of our challenges as a civilian. These responsibilities are often plagued with deeper issues both personal and professional that negatively affect the ability of officers to effectively perform their duties. For example, there have been several incidents involving the use of force and abuse of authority by officers. “Profanity is part of police culture, used in everyday speech (Peak, 2010, p.118).” Unfortunately these verbal and psychological abuse tactics are used by some police officers. Therefore, if it is used as a means to communicate on a daily basis, it is surely used in a situation to “gain control” of a situation when dealing with civilians. This form of intimidation is a way of demeaning someone’s character, making them defensive and exacerbating a smilingly innocent interaction into a chaotic confrontation. As in the incident involving the videotaped beating of Rodney King by several police officers after he was pulled over for a moving violation. Officers claim he resisted arrest, the videotape proved otherwise. This incident prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to make a ruling on the use of force at arrest it must be objectively reasonable in view of all the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight (Peak, 2010, p.117).

Two reports that followed the Rodney King beating–the 1991 report of the Independent Commission to Study the Los Angeles Police Department and the 1992 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Report by James G. Kolt and staff–questioned the effectiveness of existing psychological screening to predict propensity for violence (Scrivner, 1994).

Agencies require their officers to be “objectively reasonable” in their use of force and have adopted the definition by the International Association of Chiefs of Police: In determining the necessity for force and appropriate level of force, officers shall evaluate each situation in light of the known circumstances, including, but not limited to, the seriousness of the crime, the level of the threat or resistance presented by the subject, and the danger to the community (Peak, 2010, p.120). The DRRM (Dynamic Resistance Response Model) which combines a use-of-force continuum with the behaviors of suspects was developed to “more accurately reflect the intent of the law and the changing expectations of society (Peak, 2010, p.120)” Two publicized contagious shooting incidents have plagued officers in the past years. In 1999, Amadou Diallo, a 22 year old West African street vendor was shot 19 times by four undercover New York police officers who mistook him for a serial rapist. In April 2007, three undercover New York Police officers were indicted for the manslaughter and reckless endangerment for killing Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets discharged at him and passengers in his vehicle while unarmed. Officers assumed one of the victims had a weapon (Peak, 2010, pp.120-121). The DRRM model was clearly not utilized in these two incidents, assumptions cost the lives of two innocent civilians at the hands of overzealous police officers.

Suicide by cop and vehicle pursuits, are incidents that require split second decisions by police officers as it pertains to the public safety of the community but with dangerous and deadly consequences putting innocent bystanders at risk.

Biased-based policing or “Racial profiling” occurs when the police target someone for investigation on the basis of that person’s race, national origin, or ethnicity. This practice has become more controversial toward the end of the 20th century as the potential for abuse by law enforcement came to light. Race or color may be a factor to consider during certain police activity but race or color alone is insufficient for making a stop or arrest (Schott, 2001).

With the increase in crime and the need for 24 hour round the clock police presence, police officers are dealing with shift work and sleep deprivation. Both issues can have deadly consequences for both the officer and civilians. An officer suffering from sleep deprivation cannot make judgmental decisions when apprehending a suspect; determine the use of force if a suspect resists arrest, vehicle pursuits or firing a weapon. When a person is deprived of sleep, actual changes occur in the brain that cannot be overcome with willpower, caffeine, or nicotine. The decline in vigilance, judgment, and safety in relation to the increase in hours on the job cannot be trivialized. Community perceptions of fatigue-related risk have changed and now are viewed as absolutely unacceptable, as well as preventable. As a consequence, law enforcement professionals face a greater reactive pressure both politically and legally to rethink and implement proactive strategies to reduce fatigue-related incidents (Lindsey, 2007).


The courts were established to try the accused, have a jury of their peers determine their fate based on evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense. The judge is the mediator between both parties; he allows or overrules statements, comments and evidence that could prejudice the jury’s opinion. Once the evidence and closing statements have been presented on both sides, the judge instructs the jury to deliberate and return with a verdict of guilt or innocence. Most people would agree that the purpose of our courts is to provide a forum for seeking and through the adversarial system of justice obtaining the truth (Peak, 2010, p.187). An Adversarial system is a system of law which relies on the contest between each advocate representing his or her party’s positions and involves an impartial person or group of people, usually a jury or judge, trying to determine the truth of the case. There are many layers of the courts that make up its functionality.

The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest and one of the oldest courts in the nation formed in 1790. Composed of 9 justices: one chief justice and eight associate justices. They are appointed by the President and serve their terms for life. Each new term of the Supreme Court begins, by statute, on the first Monday in October (Peak, 2010, pp.187-188). There are 94 U.S. district courts, 89 of which are located within the 50 states (Peak, 2010, p.191). There are three methods used to select judges: partisan elections which are concentrated mostly in the southern states, nonpartisan elections are held in the West and upper Midwest, while legislative and executive appointments in the East and merit selection west of the Mississippi (Peak, 2010, p.206). The pros and cons of each selection method are as follows:

Partisan elections: – Based on the nominee’s party affiliation. Pro- The candidate’s success of being nomination is based on the amount of campaign funds and or endorsements by the particular party. Con-The candidate may not be endorsed by his or her party affiliation, resulting in low campaign funds and lack of support.

Non-partisan elections- No party affiliation: – Pro- Election is fair across the board without any prejudices associated with a party affiliation; candidate can obtain votes from both parties as well as undecided voters. Con- The lack of affiliation may negatively affect the candidate’s chance of being elected.

Legislative elections and executive appointments: – Vacancy filled by the Governor. Pro- The selection is not based on voter’s party affiliations. Con- The appointment is based on the decision of the Governor to fill a vacancy that has occurred

Merit selection (Missouri Bar Plan): – involves the creation of a nominating commission; composed of lawyers and laypersons. Pro- The committee presents the most qualified lawyers to the Governor, who chooses one person as judge. The Judge stands uncontested before the voters. Cons- The lawyers and laypersons of the committee decision may be compromised by the lack of qualified candidates and or biased opinions of the candidate’s party affiliation (Peak, 2010, pp.206-207).

With many people rotating in and out of the courtrooms, problems will occur. Several issues plaguing the US court systems include, courthouse violence and how to perform a threat assessment, how problem-solving courts are expanding, the dilemma of delay, the concept of how ADR (alternative dispute resolution) is used, media relations and the courts, gender bias, juveniles being treated as adults, shackles in courts, use of cameras in the courtrooms and plea bargaining (Peak, 2010, p. 224).

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Courthouse violence occurrences are few and far between but one case can spark concern within the community. Non-targeted courthouse violence is described as violence with no pre-existing intent but evolves from a ruling after court proceedings. Targeted courthouse violence is deemed as the opposite, intent to cause harm and often creates plans to circumvent security measures (Peak, 2010, p.226). In 2004 and early 2005, the Maricopa County Superior Court reevaluated its security policies and put in place, through Administrative Order No. 2004-031, a new policy to tighten court security, which was vigorously opposed by some. This article discusses how a court views “court security” in terms of the interest groups affected and how they may hinder or help court security, the range and depth of issues encompassed by court security, and, finally, the pressing need for the court to educate the public and other interest groups about critical security concerns (Campbell & Reinkensmeyer, 2007).

Good threat assessments involve three principles: (1) Targeted violence is the end result of an understandable and often discernible process of thinking and acting. (2) One must distinguish between expressing a threat and posing a threat. (3) Violence is the product of an interaction among the potential attacker, his or her current situation, the target, and the setting. Metal detectors are commonplace in courtrooms to prevent any violence but there are times when violence strikes courthouse personnel and/or individuals outside the courts. As in the case of a federal district court judge in Chicago whose family members were the target of violence based on a contempt of court charge (Peak, 2010, p.225).

The backlog of cases within the court system has been an ongoing issue in the past years; it has had a negative effect on the accused violating their Sixth Amendment right of a speedy trial.

In certain select federal districts (but only in those districts), the Department of Justice (DOJ) operates “fast-track” sentencing programs through which it grants deeply below-Guidelines sentences to illegal reentry defendants in exchange for quick guilty pleas (Siegler, 2009). The best-known legislation addressing the problem is the Speedy Trial Act of 1974, amended in 1979. It provides firm time limits: 30 days from the time of arrest to indictment and 70 days from indictment to trial (Peak, 2010, p.230). Although this legislation has a proven track record, it is most effective in less violent cases such as drug trafficking, and petty crimes.

Problem-solving courts are proving that they can absorb a sufficient share of the court system’s overall caseload to justify their existence. Early evaluations suggest that problem-solving courts can be as expeditious as the traditional courts hearing comparable types of cases (Casey & Rottman, 2005). They have been successful in eliminating the backlog of court cases and providing alternatives to jail time such as community service, drug rehabilitation, and mental health assistance.


Prison or correctional facility is a place of confinement for people who have committed serious crimes. Prison organizational structures have changed considerably to respond to external needs. They were administered by state boards of charities, boards composed if citizens, board of inspectors, state prison commissions, or individual prison keepers. (Peak, 2010, p.256) A Warden is the official in charge of the prison. Correctional officers (COs) preside over the inmates. COs are categorized into 5 types: (1) Rule enforcers, (2) Hard-liners, (3) People workers, (4) Synthetic officers, and (5) Loners. Generally the rule enforcers were most likely to hold bachelor or master’s degrees. (Peak, 2010, p.287) There has been debate as to whether COs should be required to have degrees. The state of Florida has incentives for COs with degrees:

The Florida Department of Corrections provides $30 extra a month to an officer with an associate degree and $80 extra a month for officers with bachelor’s degrees or higher (Florida State Board of Community Colleges 1996). The Arizona Department of Corrections provides an educational allowance for Corrections Officer III and above. A Corrections Officer III and above receives a 2.5 percent annual salary increase for an associate degree, a five percent annual salary increase for a bachelor’s degree, and a 7.5 percent annual salary increase for a master’s degree. (Bynum, 2009) Michigan Department of Corrections currently requires new officers to complete at least 15 hours of college as a condition of employment. These courses included two college classes in corrections, two in counseling/human behavior, and one involving legal issues in corrections. The courses were in addition to the basic academy (Bynum, 2009).

Correctional Officers endure stressful situations as do police officers in the field. COs deal with heavy workloads, understaffing, overcrowding, inmate contact, lack of participation in decision-making and job danger. (Peak, 2010, p.292) Some COs spend more time at work than at home and often times engage in inappropriate staff-inmate relationships with the integration of female officers working in male prisons.

Sexual activity is common in prisons; the ongoing debate is whether condoms should be issued to the inmates. Although sexual activity is not condoned, it still exists. The state of Vermont and several jails including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington, DC have condom programs (Peak, 2010, p.308). Sexual risk behaviors such as multiple partners, history of STD’s and lack of condom use before incarceration have been reported among males in correctional settings as well as in a national survey of inmates (Bernstein, Chow, Ruiz, Schachter, & et al. 2006). Prisons should adopt the condom program in the efforts to prevent an ongoing epidemic of STD’s and HIV within the prison population. The outsourcing or privatization of correctional operations and programs is a great proposal. Creating educational programs for example would benefit inmates who reenter into society an opportunity for job placement and self improvement. Medical, dental and mental health services are beneficial in their overall care. (Peak, 2010, p.317)

There are several alternatives to incarceration. Some states have adopted successful programs: –

The Minneapolis Anti-Violence Initiative (MAVI) is a partnership between the Minneapolis Police Department’s Gang Strike Force and the Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections. It targets violent adult and juvenile gang members and provides intensive supervision, joint home visits, and joint neighborhood patrols. It was started in mid-1997.

Project One Voice is a partnership between the New Haven (Connecticut) Police Department and adult and juvenile probation and parole agencies begun in 1997 to provide intensive surveillance for high-risk, gang-involved offenders who are on probation, parole, or pretrial release in two New Haven neighborhoods.

The Maricopa County Adult Probation Department operates neighborhood-based probation services in the Phoenix area. Each service is a partnership among the probation department, the Phoenix Police Department, and community organizations in the neighborhoods. The three neighborhood probation projects have two goals: (1) to reduce recidivism and (2) to expand the definition of probation to include providing services to the entire community. (Anonymous, 2009)


Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary describes system as “a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole. In my opinion, there is no clear definition of the U.S legal system, each component (police, courts and corrections) play a major role within the system. Their mission and purpose within the organization is clearly defined but they function independently instead of cohesively causing major conflict and discord.


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